In 1992, then 24-year-old Clarence Aaron was present at a drug deal where some 9 kilograms of cocaine was sold and one kilo was converted into crack. Clarence never even touched the drugs. But when he refused to cooperate with authorities, Clarence received the longest sentence out of anyone involved: three life terms.
Clarence still sits in prison 20 years later. His story was featured on the TV documentary series Frontline in 1999 in an episode called “Snitch,” about people who had gotten long prison terms after refusing to be an informant. Since then both the sentencing judge and the prosecutor in the case have altered their opinion of the sentence.
But it’s now 2012 and Clarence Aaron is still locked up, despite the fact that the Federal Prosecutor’s Office that tried the case and the sentencing judge have supported immediate commutation. US District Court Judge Charles Butler, who sentenced Aaron, recently wrote, “Looking through the prism of hindsight, and considering the many factors argued by the defendant that were not present at the time of his initial sentencing, one can argue that a less harsh sentence might have been more equitable.”
But such is the nature of mandatory minimum sentencing laws in The United States. At this point Clarence’s only hope is a sentence commutation from President Obama, something Presidents use sparingly. As a result the population in U.S. federal prison has multiplied by roughly 10X since 1980.
As you all know, there are people who are convicted of murder in this country who have a better chance at freedom than Clarence; some of them didn’t even get one life sentence for ending someone else’s life. Yet this man saw some coke being sold and decided not to snitch, so he will likely die behind bars.
The War on Drugs destroys so many lives in so many ways. And the destruction rolls on.